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"I think I shall have to take an evening off and read a book about symbols!" said the Very New Master Mason to the Old Past Master at refreshment. "I find I don't know all about them."
"When you find the book which teaches you all about them, lend it to me, won't you?" asked the Old Past Master.
"Why, I'm sure there must be such a book," answered the Very Mew Master Mason, surprised. "And I know you know all about symbols, anyway."
"I have never read a book which even attempted to tell 'all about symbols'" answered the Old Past Master. "I never knew the Mason who was willing to admit he knew all about them. And I never thought I knew very much about them, although I have studied them for forty years!"
"Why, you amaze me! There are only half a dozen symbols in the lodge; surely they cannot have so many meanings. The tools, the apron, I suppose the pillars on the porch; that's about all, isn't it?
The Old Past Master turned and looked curiously at his questioner. Satisfied that he was serious, the Old Past Master explained, gently, as to a child.
"I doubt very much that any one has ever had the temerity even to count the Masonic symbols," he began. "Certainly I have not. But there are enough to keep a great many Masonic scholars and antiquarians busy for a great many years to come, as they have in past, trying to dig out of literature, history, archeology, sacred writings, religion, philosophy, and kindred branches of study, a few of the more important meanings of our symbols. Your innocent little catalog of lodge symbols would be pathetic if it wasn't funny, and humorous if it wasn't sad!
"Certainly you could not have meant to overlook the Great Light as a symbol, and...."
"Oh, but I don't understand that as a symbol," interrupted the Very New Master Mason. "That's the Bible, the Book. I thought a symbol was something that meant something else!"
"It is true that in our American and in British Lodges the Great Light is the Holy Scriptures," agreed the Old Past Master. "But in another lodge, in another country, some other sacred Book may lie on the altar. The important thing is not what book there lies open, but that it be the book which the Masons who kneel before it, venerate as the earthly repository of spiritual knowledge. Thus, to our Jewish brethren, the New Testament in our Great Light is not a Sacred writing as is their Old Testament. Yet our Book contains both.
"But the Book of the Law when used in Masonry is more than a repository of Divine Will and Knowledge. It is a symbol of the fountain head of all learning, and a symbol of a Mason's belief in Deity. It is also a symbol of many other things, of which you will find in the books you will read, but in none of them will you find it all.
"Did you ever stop to ask yourself why Masons circumambulate in the lodge? Or why they perform this rite at various times and in various ways? Or why that rite in a Blue Lodge is always done in one direction? That is a symbol, my brother, and a very beautiful one. It is a connection, tenuous, but very direct, with those far progenitors of Masonry who lived thousands of years ago and worshipped the Sun as the only god they knew.
"It is human to be like those we strive to admire. The small boy plays at being a soldier or a fireman, and struts with a small cane to be like his father. Imitating, we feel that we are like that which we imitate. Our savage forefathers had this same bit of humanness. They believed that when they imitated that which was powerful, they in turn received power. They worshipped the Sun. The Sun, to them, travelled always from the East to the West, swinging north in the summer and south in the winter. Therefore they believed that if they, in their simple prayers and rites, imitated the course of the sun, they, too, would become godlike and have power. Many religions, rites and ceremonies of a spiritual significance have followed in the footsteps of these early men, and thought to find in circumambulation a power which comes from the Divine Something they worship.
"Of course there are other meanings of circumambulation; these, too, you will discover in the books you will read.
"Not all our symbols are so ancient, although some are even further back in time. You are familiar, of course, with the 'certain point within a circle.' That is a symbol and a great one. It has many meanings; meanings not attributed to it haphazard, but meanings born in it, as you might say. A Mason may not materially err if he circumscribe his passions within that circle, not because the ritual says so, but because our ancient brethren, who actually built Temples and Cathedrals, found that the point, or center in the circle, and another dot or two, were their easiest means of making their squares perfect, and absolutely at right angles. This is a little problem in geometry with which you are doubtless familiar; if not, the books you will read will explain it to you.
"Get out of your mind, my brother, the idea that any symbols in Masonry are arbitrary; that some man said, for instance 'here is an oblong square; I will make it into a symbol which means the lodge, just because I like the shape!'
"The 'oblong square' my brother, was the shape which our ancient brethren conceived the world to be. We use it as the 'shape of the lodge' because the lodge itself is a symbol of the world, and thus of our life in it.
"My brother, symbolism in general, and Masonic symbolism in particular, is a life-time study. It is ever new, never ending. The more you read and study, the more you understand and enjoy this Masonry of ours. But you will learn it not in one evening or two; not even in many shall you learn it all."
"Unless I spend them talking to you," smiled the Very New Master Mason.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014